Don’t let shelter slip into oblivion

With a deadline for a grant looming, fundraising should start immediately

September 27, 2012 

For more than a year now, we’ve been waiting for the official kickoff of afundraising campaign for the homeless services center planned for South Higuera Street. But now, because of controversy over whether the center should be built at all, county Supervisor Adam Hill and other project leaders have decided to indefinitely delay that announcement.

In the meantime, a $1 million grant for the center could expire; the award is contingent on the center being built by 2015.

Well, guess what?

At this rate, it won’t be built by 2015, or 2020, or 2025.

Not if supporters have to wait for the blessing of business owners in the South Higuera Street neighborhood who — years after the project was approved by city and county officials — are opposing the shelter.

Not if they to go back to the drawing board and totally revise the plan in the hope of making it more palatable to critics.

And certainly, not if they have to switch to a different location — only to be opposed by an entirely new set of neighbors.

As we’ve said before, the South Higuera Street location wasn’t chosen lightly; some 20 sites were analyzed, and — again and again — it came out on top. It’s close to public transportation; it’s within walking distance of downtown; it’s in a mixed-use area that includes residential, office and light industry; and because the land is owned by the county — which agreed to lease it to the shelter — that helps keep costs down.

That said, we aren’t opposed to some adjustments. It would make sense to open as a 100-bed shelter, with the potential to add more beds on an incremental basis if operations are successful. We also support athorough review of policies and procedures, to help ensure that clients will not be disruptive. The Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria, for example, requires that clients undergo drug and alcohol testing. Those who test positive for drugs are offered a spot at an on-site residential detox center, and if unwilling to take part, they must move on. Why can’t San Luis Obispo offer as much? The need is certainly as great, if not greater. What’s more, existing facilities, especially the dilapidated Maxine Lewis Shelter, are not sufficient. So why delay fundraising? If ever there were aproject to keep in the public eye, this is it. We don’t want this to go underground, to disappear for two or three or four years because it’s controversial or politically unpalatable.

It’s time for supporters of the project — including the SLO City Council and mayoral candidates, who recently assured The Tribune Editorial Board that they support the center — to reaffirm their commitment to the project.

Certainly, form a committee, meet with concerned neighbors, and review the project plans and the rules and regulations.

But don’t let this opportunity slip away, and don’t deny those who are eager to contribute to this worthy cause — whether it’s $5 or $500,000 — the chance to do so.

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